Madrid temporarily halts removal of Francoist monuments

City Hall to pass municipal order to specify best way of applying Historical Memory Law

The site of the removed monument dedicated to former minister Enrique de la Mata by Madrid’s Rubén Darío metro station.
The site of the removed monument dedicated to former minister Enrique de la Mata by Madrid’s Rubén Darío metro station.Luis Sevllano

Madrid City Hall announced on Thursday that it was “temporarily” suspending its removal of plaques and memorials connected to the Franco dictatorship in the capital until a municipal order can be passed that specifies the appropriate way to apply Spain’s 2007 Historical Memory Law.

The city government, led by the left-wing Ahora Madrid coalition, caused controversy last week when it began to remove monuments throughout the city without warning. The Madrid regional government, controlled by the conservative Popular Party (PP), called for an investigation with a view to penalizing local officials, claiming that an obelisk that was taken down was a protected Asset of Cultural Interest.

By April, City Hall says, the legal framework will be in place to cover the loopholes in historical memory legislation

What’s more, PP councilors in City Hall threatened to go to the courts over the removal of a plaque dedicated to eight Carmelite friars who were executed by leftist forces at the onset of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). They backed down when the council pledged to put the memorial back in place.

On Thursday, council spokesperson Rita Maestre stated that, with the exception of the plaque to the friars – which, City Hall says, was removed “due to an error” – no memorials would be put back, nor would any more be removed until April. By then, Maestre said, the legal framework would be in place to cover the loopholes in current legislation covering historical memory.

Passed by the Socialist central government of former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2007, the Historical Memory Law granted subsidies to projects such as the opening of mass graves from the Civil War. It also took into account the removal of statues and the changing of place names connected to the Franco regime. But funding was slashed when the PP arrived in power in 2011, halting such projects throughout Spain.

A new report, which has cost the council €17,999, is due to be made public on April 22

The day before announcing its latest decision, Ahora Madrid culture councilor Celia Mayer had stated that a number of plaques and monuments would be taken down between now and April. The removal of these symbols, she explained, had been announced by the council in a session on December 22, when all parties – with the exception of the PP – had approved an “integral historical memory plan” for Madrid.

But other parties have confirmed that the list of monuments was never approved. In the council session, Mayer had in fact presented a number of proposals based on a municipal report from 2013, when the PP still controlled Madrid City Hall. She also cited a more recent study that has been carried out by a professor at Madrid’s Complutense University who specializes in historical memory. The report is due to be made public on April 22 and has cost the council €17,999.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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